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Bridge Michigan
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Twice the warmth, three times the stories: Heating the old-fashioned way

I once sliced my leg open with my chainsaw. According to the emergency room doctor who sewed me up, I missed the femoral artery by about one inch.

In another ill-fated woodland encounter, I brought down a section of dead trunk square on top of my head while trying to drop a "widow maker" (a detached tree leaning against another tree). The impact cracked the helmet I was wearing and knocked me to the ground.

Notice I said "helmet," not "skull." A close call the previous year sent me shopping for some noggin protection, the faithful use of which probably saved my life. As for the bloodshed, I made a vow, as I was driving to the hospital with a handkerchief knotted around the wound in my leg, tourniquet-style, to never cut wood again without my Kevlar chaps (the Kevlar chaps that were hanging from a nail in my garage when the chain of my saw broke skin). I've kept that vow – mainly to protect my hide, but also to spare my dignity. I could never live down the embarrassment of having to answer the question, "So, where were your chaps this time…?"

What doesn't kill you slaps you upside the head and gets your attention.

So now when I stalk firewood – a pursuit I find eminently satisfying – I'm an OSHA poster boy in my chaps, helmet, eye and ear protection. But my most important survival tool has nothing to do with gear; it's being able to recognize a dangerous situation and having the wisdom to walk away from it. In firewood cutting, as in all things, a misguided ego can get you into trouble.

Employing reasonable precautions and a healthy respect for what a ton of falling wood can do, harvesting firewood can become more than just a chore. I see it as my winter hobby – perfect, in my opinion, because it is both satisfying and productive. Heating my house with a wood burner, I use less than half the propane I would use without it. And with propane averaging around $4 per gallon in the Midwest this winter, that's very good for the bottom line.

Cabin fever? The pursuit of firewood is a perfect excuse to venture into the winter woods, which, barring a 20-below wind chill, is a pleasant, peaceful place to be, as long as you dress for it. For one thing, there are no mosquitoes in January,

Exercise? For me, it's a simple equation: I could join a gym for, say, $100 a month and spend my time and energy riding a bike going nowhere, or I can get out into the fresh air with a saw and a splitting maul, and work up a sweat while actually producing something of value.

The old saying is that wood warms you twice, but that’s a gross underestimate. It warms you when you cut it, when you split it, when you haul it and when you stack it. It warms you when you see your stash growing with each new load.

It warms you just knowing that regardless of what happens to the power lines and gas supplies – those things beyond your control – you'll never go to bed cold.

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